Steamboat Springs Gail Holthausen has been a potter for three decades and taught her craft at Colorado Mountain College for six years.
But until she started her new business, she wasn't able to share her love of ceramics with as many people as she always wanted to.
Holthausen opened The Potter's Wheel this fall at 2780 Acre Lane on Steamboat Springs' far west side. Her customers are able to explore their creativity through hand-glazed ceramic pieces, without undertaking the lengthy process of learning to throw a clay pot on a potter's wheel.
Paint-your-own pottery shops have popped up in strip malls all over America in the last decade. The element that makes Holthausen's business stand out is her depth of experience as a formally trained potter.
She has devoted many years to educating others. She says the joy of painting ceramic blanks stems from the brief time frame in which customers can tap into their own creativity.
"When I teach pottery at the college, it can take as much as 12 weeks for someone to get good at it," Holthausen said. "Here, within one session, I can get them to leave with great excitement. Its immediacy is immensely rewarding."
For customers who are satisfied with painting their own holiday ornament or serving bowl, Holthausen is excited to demonstrate some techniques that will give their work a polished look.
"I have a large bag of tricks to make decoration easier," Holthausen said."
They include wax and latex resist, scaffitto (cut glaze) tools, banding wheels, underglaze pencils, stencils sponges and stamps. She also maintains a library of books and magazine clippings to fire the imagination.
But Holthausen also plans to create a bridge between the paint-your-own concept, to more advanced projects.
"In time I will offer short workshops in painting, sculpture, hand-building and Raku firings," she said. "Through my contact with the arts community, I hope to have guest artists instruct here as well."
Customers at the Potter's Wheel pay a flat studio fee of $6 that covers a three-hour visit.
She offers special group rates for birthday parties or just a group of friends getting together for a special day. They incur an additional expense when they select the blank ceramic piece they intend to paint. The cost ranges from $4 figurines to $55 serving platters.
Holthausen has put a great deal of time and energy into selecting the ready-made ceramic pieces or "forms," available for her customers to choose from. She doesn't limit her orders to the large suppliers, but hand-selects pieces made one at a time by individual wholesalers.
There are electric switch plates for $1.95, chip and dip bowls for $19.50, hand cream dispensers, creamer sets shaped like cows and ceramic picture frames.
There are both decorative and practical items in the collection. The ceramic glazes Holthausen applies to customers' finished pieces are dishwasher and microwave safe.
Holthausen has hangable Christmas ornaments, and a popular item this season is a platter that can be customized to commemorate the new year.
Holthausen invested $3,000 in a new computer-controlled kiln. The interval from the time her customers leave the shop until their fired pieces are ready can range from one to five days. She is happy to ship pieces for customers who are visiting Steamboat and plan to return home before their piece is fired.
There is no need to make a reservation in order to visit the Potter's Wheel, but she urges customers to call ahead to confirm seasonal hours of operation. Normal hours are 10:30 a.m. until 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and 1-4 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays.
The Potter's Wheel is a little out of the way, roughly west of Waste Management's recycling center.
Call 879-4944 for directions.